A word on the challenges

Marlborough Express Facebook page
Marlborough Express Facebook page

The challenges facing the print media today, especially regional newspapers - that is the brief I was given for a talk to a group of people in Blenheim this morning, and I thought it was worth sharing some of the comments with you.

It is no secret that newspapers throughout the world are struggling to stay afloat as circulation drops. We are commercial operations that rely on income from newspaper sales and advertising to stay in business.

Some papers have closed or cut back to printing just two or three days a week. One reason is that people can get the news from so many other sources such as TV and radio, but particularly websites and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, texting and broadcast emails.

This has forced editors of daily papers to focus on what they do. Like any small business faced with competition from big outside operators, we have to concentrate on our point of difference. On what can we supply that no other business does.

A newspaper's strength is being best at covering the news in the area where it circulates.

Relating that to the Marlborough Express, my job is to make sure our editorial team covers the Marlborough area better than any other news outlet.

Other media will swoop in to cover the big stories, but they don't care about the routine news like council debates, fire bans, water restrictions, GP waiting lists, sports results, arts show openings and the like.

The King Salmon hearings are a good example. During the nine weeks of those consent hearings last year - an issue ruled by the Government to be of national interest - one other newspaper and Radio New Zealand sent a reporter for the first day and one TV channel did a story later.

We had a reporter at every session of the hearing and we devoted many columns to covering the subject before, during and since. Some readers said it was too much; others thanked us for our commitment to covering such an important issue.

The Press and the Dominion Post are also sold in Marlborough. While they are "sister" papers of the Express - owned by the same company - they are also our competition because only a limited number of people will buy two newspapers a day.

So we compete by focusing on Marlborough news. We carry some news from outside the region because that's what most readers expect, but our focus is on the Marlborough region.

While our circulation (paid sales) figures for 2012 are likely to be down slightly on the previous year, our latest audited readership figures show a growing number of people are reading the paper. The numbers regularly using our marlexpress.co.nz website are also growing, suggesting that if people want to know what's happening in Marlborough, they turn to us.

Newspapers - the fourth estate - play an important role in the community by asking questions, checking out rumours and letting people know what's happening.

In the United States where smaller papers have closed or dropped to only two or three editions a week, residents have started to realise they are losing their "watchdog".

The newsrooms have been reduced and the reporters who went to all the council meetings, the hospital board meetings, who asked police and emergency services what's going on aren't there as often, or at all.

Regional newspapers have many challenges, but I am confident we have a future as long as readers are still interested in what is going on in the community. We might not be published in print in 10 or 15 years, but I'm sure we will still be here as a news organisation.

The Marlborough Express